EDITOR’S NOTE: Diane Mora is one of three finalists for the 2019 KCPS Teacher of the Year Award. The recipient will be revealed during the Teacher of the Year Celebration on Thursday, April 11.
East High School
Grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 / English II (Sheltered ELA) and Literacy II (ESL)
How are you working to increase equity in education and opportunity for students in your school?
Last year, East High School began a partnership with PrepKC. I immediately started involving Beth McCarthy of PrepKC in the quarterly “Room 409 Publishing Parties” I host for students in my writing classes. These quarterly publishing parties offer students opportunities to present their writing to authentic audiences. I solicit guest readers from many professions who will commit an hour of their time to read with and respond to my young authors. I could fill a book with the positive responses from students and guests following these events.
The support of PrepKC in helping me find volunteer readers from different industries has led to an ongoing relationship with local journalists like Barb Shelly, who has taken a personal interest in my students’ writing and academic success – even to the point that Ms. Shelley accompanied my students on our “Field Trip of Friendship.”
The KCPS 2nd Quarter 9th grade ELA unit plan focuses on research-based writing. I applied a social justice perspective to our lessons and themed our classroom-level unit, “Life in High School.” Students mastered a series of interconnected real-world research and writing tasks based on reciprocal field trips and classroom exchanges with students of Liberty North High School that became known as the “Field Trips of Friendship.”
Much of this was inspired by a coffee-conversation with a teacher-colleague of mine from Liberty North High School who had reached out to me about my experiences teaching English to refugee and migrant students. Ms. Lock was creating a unit for her 9th grade ELA class at LNHS based on the social justice concerns of displaced persons and refugees. During our conversation, I realized that sharing my experiences and impressions with her were well-intended, but didn’t really change anything at the student-level to improve understanding or dispel misperceptions of the lives and educational opportunities between privileged and nonprivileged students living in the same metropolitan area.
We each approached our building Principals for approval for our students to meet. Although Ms. Lock and I created separate and distinctly different lessons, we shared a passion for engaging students in authentic writing processes and project-based writing tasks that lead to real-world outcomes.
Ultimately my unit synthesizes many components of valid research methods including field writing and in person interviewing that are often overlooked when teaching research methods in the digital age. The point of traveling to a predominantly white middle- to upper-class high school (and inviting predominantly white middle- to upper-class students to East High School) was not to disparage or demoralize the other. The point was to nurture student interest in research and fuel real-world problem-solving through the element of human engagement. There is a seductive appeal to believing we can create equitable solutions to real-world concerns – be they educational or other – simply by teaching students how to identify “fake” versus “credible” sources of digital information.
At the 2nd Quarter Room 409 Publishing Party my students demonstrated that in addition to mastering their first MLA writing task (I also required a formal, published source of research), they could develop creative (often ingenious) solutions to making our East High School community more respectful and more meaningful to “Life in High School.”
What message about public education do you want to share?
Room 409 Publishing Parties fuel my students’ desire to communicate effectively while learning that their stories and ideas matter. More importantly, through these interactions, my students get real-world experience in learning the impact of the written word to create and connect us or to destroy and divide us. There can be no better lesson in equity than leading an individual to the realization that his or her ideas are unique, important, and deserving of being shared.
I am on a mission to end the misuse of assessments and test scores that paint a picture of limited potential in students, and which then create misperceptions of the ability of teachers and the quality of schools. I know first hand as a student and as an educator how the well-intended use of assessments plays an unfortunate role in turning perception into reality.
My path to teaching has not happened on a perfectly timed, well-orchestrated schedule. I am the epitome of a “non-traditional” student who held jobs before she held diplomas. The stars between my work history and education didn’t fully align until 2002, yet 1972 – my eighth-grade year – was the pivotal year that delayed my journey into teaching.
Scores on a college and career aptitude test that I took in 1972 shaped the rest of my high school path. You see, according to my middle school counselor, the results of that single assessment predicted I was best-suited for jobs requiring repetitive motion. Therefore, I would never be a college candidate. Initially, I lived up to that prediction.
I was 38 years old before I completed a bachelor’s degree. I now hold two master’s degrees. Thus proving that assessments and test scores can never measure the potential of students, nor the quality of teachers or districts.
Yet, teachers are trained in the field to equate professional excellence with technical excellence measured competitively by student scores. As an educator, I find that I am now in a position of either reinforcing assessment systems that failed me as a student, or advocating for more meaningful ways for students to demonstrate learning. I’m blessed that at East High School I work with an administrative team, led by Mr. Luis Hinojosa, where I am encouraged to develop relevant questions and correspondingly thoughtful answers.